January 20, 2015 by Debra Gittler

“INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE.” –REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

I’ve often heard people say that Martin Luther King Day should be a day of schooling, not a day off. After all, what better way to honor his memory than immerse ourselves in his teachings and his dream.

So how appropriate that this year, El Salvador’s first day of school is also Martin Luther King Day.

I love Martin Luther King Day. It’s an annual reminder to honor and reflect, and of course, to dream.

I’m often asked why I started ConTextos. The answer is quite simple: I saw a void and knew I had the capacity, networks and passion to fill it. I knew that kids weren’t learning to read, they weren’t learning to love the power of language and the potential of the written word. I wanted to confront this injustice.

ConTextos has come a long way. It seems like incredible growth from 3 schools in 2011 to over 60 by the end of this year. But over 4,900 more schools in El Salvador still need us. And millions more kids in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua…

I never doubt the power of literacy as a tool to confront poverty and violence. But sometimes, the problems here in El Salvador feel so big, and ConTextos seems like such a small drop in such a massive bucket.

So today on Dr. King day, I look for inspiration. I comb through his quotes and read the blogs that discuss what he would think about today’s problems and challenges. I’m reminded of his short-fallings as well as his achievements.

I take time to bask in the glory of his dream. And to realize how far the world has come.

And I take time to be saddened by how far there is to go. Of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, of the little girl in Manila who yesterday asked the Pope why some children are sold as slaves, of the thousands of kids here in El Salvador who fear for their lives as they walk to school.

I remember his words: “Life’s most persistent question is, what are you doing for others?” And I think about what we’re doing here at ConTextos, and how much more there is for us to do.

I think about helping one person deeply versus helping many people broadly. I miss my days as a teacher, when I knew the names, families, dreams, worries of each of the 30 students under my guidance. I’m daunted by a growth plan to bring ConTextos to thousands more kids.

I weigh systemic versus individual change. Dr. King said: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Maybe ConTextos take a third position? Maybe we are the scaffolding for a crumbling institution; maybe ConTextos neither flings coins nor rebuilds a system, but provides support to a withered institution so it can be rebuilt— by many partners— to be stronger and more relevant.

“The function of education,” said Dr. King, “Is to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the true goal of education.” As ConTextos grows, we stay committed to Dr. King’s words and vision. Today and all days, we honor his memory and aim to keep his legacy alive.

Debra Gittler
Founder and Executive Director

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